A team of Harvard University researchers, working with colleagues from the University of Virginia and Ramon Llull University, discovered through surveys that people who interact with a diverse range of other people are more satisfied with their lives than those who interact with fewer people. Their paper appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Prior research has found links between the degree of social connection and personal well-being for the majority of people—those who interact with friends and colleagues on a regular basis report being happier than loners. The researchers in this new study wondered if the degree of closeness between interacting people plays a role in such life satisfaction. To find out, they devised a series of surveys to assess the closeness of acquaintances or other people involved in day-to-day interactions, as well as how this affected the level of life satisfaction.
The researchers distributed surveys to people in eight countries and received over 50,000 completed surveys in return. They examined them in order to learn more about the links between social interactions and life satisfaction. They discovered that the number of people with whom an individual interacts had a greater impact on life satisfaction than the proximity of those people to the individual. They discovered that even talking to strangers had an effect.
According to their findings, such “weak ties” play an important role in life satisfaction and overall happiness. They go on to say that this could be because people want to be supported by others for a variety of reasons. They want to love and companionship from a spouse, but they also want validation from a colleague or even someone they just met. They conclude by acknowledging that the structure of modern society makes it difficult to maintain relationships with large groups of people, but they suggest that making more of an effort would likely result in a good payoff for the majority of people.